Bear Creek Smokehouse Announces Expansion, New Product

September 25, 2012

Phil Latham

Five generations of Harrison County’s Shoults family gathered Monday to accept a check for $48,000 from the Marshall Economic Development Corporation which will go toward expansion of the family’s Bear Creek Smokehouse and the addition of 19 full-time jobs.

And if the company’s newest culinary invention is as big a hit as expected, especially across the South, it could be just the beginning of the growth.

That unique new product?

Bacon bark.

It is combination of the savory and the sweet; tiny bits of Bear Creek bacon covered in chocolate.

The new confection was not the point of the gathering, which was to announce the assistance of MEDCO and the Kilgore Small Business Development Center in expanding operations to create the new jobs, but it certainly created a buzz when it was mentioned by Bear Creek President Robbie Shoults.

You will have to wait before searching for bacon bark at the stores or online, though. Shoults said the candy was not fully in production and the company was awaiting delivery of new equipment before that would begin.

However, there were samples handed out to the community leaders gathered and the unanimous consensus was, “ummm.”

The Bear Creek expansion was also prodded along by an agreement with Red Rock foods, which has a license to make Nolan Ryan sandwiches, which will now feature meat from Bear Creek Smokehouse.

Bear Creek Smokehouse now sends its product to stores across the nation. Shoults said some 2 million pounds of cured salt pork are sold to Wal Mart, Publix, Kroger and other food chains.

That, from a business that started almost out of desperation when W.H. “Hick” Shoults and his wife, Nellie, decided to start raising turkeys because they could not make enough money growing cotton to feed their family.

That was in 1943 and it was not long before the family bailed on cotton and went to the smokehouse business full-time, branching out from just turkeys to hams, pork loin, bacon, and beef products.

Bear Creek Smokehouse also moved into entirely new food areas. They now sell candies, barbecue sauce, soups, spice mixes and other desserts. Many of their products are marketed as gourmet foods.

MEDCO Chairman Leslie Chambers related a story of years ago when she was not wanting to cook for a holiday meal, going to her Neiman-Marcus catalog to purchase the meat to be delivered to her door.

“When I got the box it was in a Bear Creek box,” she said, laughing. “I knew then not to go out of Harrison County to go shopping.”

Donna Maisel, executive director of MEDCO, noted that most of the company’s current employees have Marshall addresses and said the return on the investment by MEDCO would be realized in about two years.